Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster  – Battersea Arts Centre, London

Writers and Performers: BAC Beatbox Academy

Directors: Conrad Murray and David Cumming

Reviewer:  Richard Maguire

The Battersea Arts Centre has created a monster with its beatbox version of Frankenstein. The BAC Beatbox Academy completely updates the classic Mary Shelley horror story to make it relevant for today’s young audiences. The Dr Frankenstein in this pulsing adaptation is contemporary society, which has the potential to make monsters of us all.

Celebrating its 10thbirthday this year, the BAC Beatbox Academy is a collective of singers, rappers, spoken-word artists and beatboxers. Frankenstein: How To Make A Monster was first devised two years ago, and was developed with the help of the BAC’s scratch series, where companies can try out new work. When they started to play bigger spaces, they brought in a new director, David Cumming, to tighten up the performance. It’s paid off in dividends.

Dressed in grey hoodies, the crew begin their Frankenstein with the song Genius and soon we realise that the performers are not just good beatboxers, but also good singers and rappers too. The six of them can make quite a noise, and it’s often hard to believe that the bass doesn’t belong to a backing track. Much of this bass is the work of ABH Beatbox, who can make the floor vibrate with his deep tones. He can also act too, and his range of comic voices ensures that this Frankenstein is very funny.

While separated into chapters, it initially appears that rather than following a story, Frankenstein will be a series of songs demonstrating the various skills of the performers. Aminita Francis’s voice soars in her numbers, while Glitch (aka Nadine Rose Johnson) adds some female swagger to the proceedings. She’s a match for Native (Nathaniel Forder-Staple) who with his outrageous beatboxing often has the audience yelling with delight. Wiz-rd (Tyler Worthington) is a quieter force on stage, but his beatboxing is intricate and sometimes otherworldly, making him the perfect Dr Frankenstein. They are joined by newcomer Grove (Beth Griffin) who as the outcast gives a very moving performance. It seems unbelievable that she’s only been with the crew a few weeks.

Most of the songs are their own compositions, except for a medley of covers including Prodigy’s Firestarter and even some music by Bach. This is how they put the monster together: using bits and pieces of other people’s songs in the same way that the original monster is made from other people’s body parts. It’s a very clever device. Slowly, in the second half of this 60-minute show, a story starts to form and with the song #hideouswe see that today’s society with its judgemental social media platforms has made us lonely creatures. Like Frankenstein’s monster we look for companionship in the wilderness.

With choreography as tight as their singing, and with Sherry Coenen’s dramatic lighting design, this Frankenstein is exciting and compelling. At one point, the young cast perform a dance song, with drops any DJ would be proud of, and had the audience up on their feet. The BAC Beatbox Academy is astonishing good, and on this basis of this performance, looks likely to take over world.

Runs until 24 October 2018 | Image: Joyce Nicholls

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